Art in the Age of Reckoning

October is Black History Month in the UK

by Madeline DeFilippis | 25 October 2020

This photo is Copyright ã 2018 David Uzochukwu. All Rights Reserved.

2020 has been a year of intense realisation for the world. After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, people took to the streets to protest the institutional racism of their governments and societies. The U.K. was not exempt – protestors in London, with celebrity appearances by John Boyega, Dave, and Jade Thirwall among others, demanded justice. The art world is not exempt from these demands either. Internationally renowned museums such as the Guggenheim and local museums such as the Pitt Rivers have weathered renewed calls to address their lack of diversity within their departments, the lack of BIPOC artists chosen to exhibit, and the whitewashing of unsavoury histories within the collections themselves. The statistics don’t lie: Major Partner Museums (MPM) reported in a report from 2017-18 that BAME staff only comprised 5%, despite 13.8% of the UK population identifying as BAME. This must change. It is vitally important to solve these socio-political and economic issues if we expect our society to be equitable. As part of these solutions, we must turn to the arts and listen to the stories Black, indigenous and minority ethnic people are telling. Some stories are traumatic; some are intellectually stimulating; some are intended to spark joy. Whatever form those stories take, we must listen with empathy.

This photo is Copyright ã 2018 David Uzochukwu. All Rights Reserved.

History starts with the here and now. That’s why this article highlights artists you should know about – either because they are new and exciting, or because their art has paved the way for Black artists in the UK and beyond. They are part of the past, the present, and the future. Lubaina Himid CBE Lubaina Himid is a visionary artist. Born in Zanzibar in 1954, she and her mother emigrated to England when she was just four months old. She studied at Wimbledon College of Art and the Royal College of Art and has exhibited at international institutions all over the world, including Tate, the V&A, Manchester Art Gallery, and more. In 2017, Himid won the prestigious Turner Prize (the first black woman to do so) and was awarded a CBE in 2018. Himid focuses her work on black creativity and the African diaspora. She often questions canonical historical narratives through the replacement of African subjects within the institutional setting. More recently, in her work Five Conversations (2019), Himid has said that her intention is to invite spectators to enjoy the conviviality of her work, to celebrate with her subjects. Bright colours catch one’s eye, but there is always more than meets the eye with Himid’s work


Lubaina Himid, Five Conversations (2019). Hollybush Gardens, Frieze Sculpture 2020. Commissioned by High Line Art, presented by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Photo by Stephen White. Courtesy of Stephen White/Frieze.


Anya Paintsil

Anya Paintsil is a Welsh and Ghanaian artist who I happened across during my visit to the eighth annual 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Paintsil works primarily with textiles and told me that it takes her months to complete her works because of the intricate embroidery patterns she uses. It takes even longer if she pulls them out to start again! Her work often represents her thoughts or experiences of race and gender, particularly growing up as a woman of colour in Wales (many of her textiles are titled in Welsh, her first language). Paintsil’s textiles are stunning and immediately draw you in with the promise of a story. Represented by Ed Cross Fine Art, Paintsil works in Manchester and is an artist to watch when she next comes to town.


Anya Paintsil, Self portrait, 2018. Photo courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art.



Frank Bowling

Frank Bowling is a Guyanese artist who moved to London in 1950. Although he attended the Royal College of Art and graduated the same year as David Hockney, Bowling did not receive due credit for his inspirational works in the abstract expressionist style. The art world largely ignored him until 2019, when Tate exhibited a retrospective of Bowling. Bowling does not explicitly tie his work to race and the discussion of it, but nonetheless he is an artist who has taken his rightful place as a canonical modern artist. His ‘poured paintings’ are an exciting blend of traditional painterly attention to aesthetics and a wild ‘chance’ effect. What results are beautiful, fascinating paintings that give you something new to look at and consider whenever you lay eyes upon them.

Frank Bowling Polish Rebecca 1971 Private Collection © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019



Genevieve Gaignard

I was lucky enough to meet Genevieve Gaignard in the summer of 2018. Gaignard is American and works in Los Angeles, but grew up on the east coast of the U.S. Her work is primarily centred around identity – Gaignard’s father is Black and her mother is white. Growing up, her mixed heritage left her feeling discombobulated when thinking about her identity. She questions the intersectional ideas of race, gender, invisibility, ‘passing’, and the feminine body through her immersive installations. Gaignard is unapologetically authentic and blends her love of ‘kitsch’ art and music to create her detailed environmental pieces. What’s more, Gaignard also creates self-portraits in which she explores ‘performance identity’ by acting out narratives on camera.



Genevieve Gaignard, Keep It 100, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.


David Uzochukwu

Uzochukwu is a Nigerian-Austrian artist who specialises photography. Many of his photographs are self-portraits and are digitally manipulated to create majestic backdrops and narratives. Born in Austria in 1998, Uzochukwu is just in the early days of his artistic career, but already shows his capacity for creativity within the photographic medium. His self-portraits are heart-breaking, provocative, and beautiful. His works explore the human body, love and relationships, and nature most prominently, and capture the balance of the human body’s strength and fragility in a poignant and arresting style.



This photo is Copyright ã 2018 David Uzochukwu. All Rights Reserved.

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